Anyone involved in the Latino community in the US knows people who came illegally and later received a Green Card. My friend Juan came 22 years ago and after a few years got his Green Card. My friend Jose, came illegally about 14 years ago and within a few years got his Green Card. Moses came with a coyote 9 years ago and within a year had legal status.
Juan, Jose and Moses and everyone else I know who comes illegally and receives legal status quickly send for their sisters, brothers, cousins and children. They all come illegally hoping for the same good fortune as their family member experienced. They come in hopes of eventually becoming legal. Given our dysfunctional immigration policy, coming illegally seems to be a reasonable way to eventually receive legal status. The odds are much higher for getting legal status by going the illegal route compared to applying for permission to come legally. It is similar to the lottery where an infinitesimally small percentage actually win, but because someone does win, millions buy lottery tickets everyday. Regardless of how small the chances are of wining the lottery or gaining legal status, a few winners inspire millions.
The people coming illegally are not people listening to the news saying “If you come, you will be deported.” They are listening to their family members saying, “I came and later got papers. Come now and perhaps you too can get papers.” That is the situation of two teens in Honduras who, a month ago, told me that one of them has an adult brother who had gone to the US with a coyote and now has legal status and so they too plan on going.
Almost everyone I know in Honduras knows someone who went to the US illegally and later became legal. For example, Mario, who works for us in Honduras, has a son who went to the States illegally, married a US citizen and thus received legal status. Last week, I spoke to a grade school teacher not far from San Pedro Sula who said “From my town, I know children who went to the States and received legal papers. I don’t understand why the news says they will be deported. Ten years ago, my younger sister went when she was only twelve and was not deported. It is the opposite. She now has papers to travel back and forth to visit us here in Honduras.”
During many of my flights to and from Honduras, I am seated beside Hondurans. In the course of conversation, they tell me how they went to the US with a coyote but later became legal. While it is a very small minority of illegals who receive legal status, most every Honduran has a family member or knows someone for whom the strategy of going illegally and later becoming legal has worked. That is enough to give them hope it will work for them especially given the difficult circumstances of staying in Honduras.
Latino pastors in the US tell me that they tell their congregations, “Even though you came illegally, if you obey the law and live responsibly the time will come that you can become legal. Most presidents bring up the idea of a program to legalize you. One day a president will be successful.” The pastors know the patterns of history and thus have reason to give hope to their congregations that gaining legal status is a possibility.
Bottom line: Every Latino living in the US knows that gaining legal status is a possibility so, they send money to pay a coyote to help their family members come/ Honduras may have the worst educational system in Latin America but Hondurans are not stupid. When they hear on the news “If you come, we will deport you.” they know from family and friends it is not always true. (7/21/14) (photo courtesy Internet)
Note: The author is the founder of Art for Humanity, a non-profit organization based in Arlington, Virginia. He has formed the Leadership Center in Honduras to help educate good students from poor families.